If you have limited time on a trip to England, you definitely must spend time in London, one of the world’s greatest cities. However it would be a shame not to experience other parts of the country.
England is not a large country but it is packed with wonderful and fascinating places to enjoy on a UK vacation. I have always maintained that London is London and the rest of the country is another world waiting to be discovered. I have selected a number of places in England which are easily accessible from London. Here is a short guide to some of the nearby day trips you can take. You can, if so desired, combine a number of the following all in one day’s outing. The distances shown from London are approximate. All trips can be on organized tours or on an independent basis.
Canterbury (88 kilometres/55 miles)
Pleasant Canterbury is south-east of London. Naturally, the highlight of a visit here on a trip to England will be Canterbury Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Anglican Church in the UK. While there, you might like to check out the Cathedral Archives which hold a wealth of manuscripts, photos, maps, and other records which date back as far as the 8th century. The city has an attractive medieval centre and Canterbury Castle is the ruins of a Norman castle built in the 11th century. A favourite venue of mine is “Canterbury Tales,” an exhibit in St. Margaret’s Church, which is a reconstruction of 14th-century Canterbury. You join a tour conducted by a guide in traditional costume through some of Chaucer’s tales and who introduces you to some of the writers’ characters. Then there is the Canterbury Roman Museum with includes exhibits from the Roman period of occupation of Britain, and the Canterbury Royal Museum and Art Gallery, with exhibits of both traditional and contemporary work.
Cambridge (100 kilometres/61 miles)
The number one attraction here is the University. Cambridge consists of a number of colleges which make up the university, in this case, 31. I recommend either a cruise on the River Cam or rent a punt to view the colleges from a totally different perspective. If in Cambridge on an England vacation around the time, be sure to book a seat at the famous King’s College Christmas Eve Service or, any Sunday evening during term time, attend Choral Evensong. There are several outstanding museums in Cambridge including the Fitzwilliam Museum with its half million exhibits dating back from 2500 BC to present day, The Polar Museum where you can learn about Captain Scott’s Antarctic expeditions, and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology which includes a collection from Captain Cook’s expeditions around the world.
Oxford (96 kilometres/60 miles)
Immediately west of London and, like London, situated on the River Thames, you come to Oxford, home to a large number of colleges which collectively make up Oxford University. There are 39 individual colleges dotted around the city, some of them hundreds of years old. In the case of Merton College, it is amazingly 750 years old. Most of the colleges are open to visitors and entrance to the grounds is free of charge. Although the colleges are located in a busy city, once you enter a college’s precincts, you will find yourself in a very different and serene world. Oxford is also home to one of the world’s oldest public museums, the Ashmolean, which features a collection ranging from Egyptian mummies to contemporary art.
Brighton (75 kilometres/47 miles)
If you want to see what a typical English seaside resort is like, head south on a London vacation to Brighton. It is a small city with a lively atmosphere. The beach is totally pebble so that’s not the main attraction. The most prominent feature is probably the Royal Pavilion with its eye-catching ornate onion-shaped domes and colourful minarets. It opened 200 years ago and was designed for the Prince Regent at the time by the architect, John Nash, who designed Buckingham Palace. You can go inside and can also visit the Royal Pavilion Garden, said to be the only fully restored Regency garden in the UK. The garden is maintained using only organic methods.
Brighton Pier, first built in 1899, still retains its vintage character. There are activities along the pier, but maybe the best aspect is to head to the end and look back at the shoreline. Don’t miss The Laines, a jumble of streets and alleyways containing antique and vintage stores as well as cafes, record stores, book stores, and more.
Shakespeare Country (153 kilometres/95 miles)
Stratford-upon-Avon was the home of William Shakespeare. Today it is a pleasant picturesque market town with the attractive River Avon flowing slowly through its centre. If able to spend time here, you can immerse yourself in culture and the arts by attending theatre and music festivals which cover drama, opera, and dance.
Regarding Shakespeare himself, you can take in 5 houses relating to the famous bard – one being where he was born, which offers a glimpse into Shakespeare’s early world, and another being Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, a thatched farmhouse with beautiful grounds and gardens where he wooed his wife. You can also visit Tudor World, an exhibit which brings to life the 16th century. The town itself has a range of shops and fashionable stores to fill your time on an England vacation.
The Cotswolds (137 kilometres/85 miles)
On a trip to England, you should visit the Cotswolds which has been described as the “quintessential English countryside.” It is a region of quaint small villages and beautiful, gently rolling countryside. It also contains some historic castles and stately homes. My suggestions for visits include Broadway, which is one of the most picturesque villages featuring a selection of antique and quality shops. Then there is Morton-in-Marsh, a lively market town dating back to the Saxon era, with elegant 17th- and 18th-century buildings where you can take in the open-air street market on Tuesdays. Another is Stowe-on-the-Wold, well known as a centre for antiques. Situated on the Roman Fosse Way, it dates from being a prehistoric fortified settlement.
Chipping Campden is one of the best preserved and most historically important towns in the Cotswolds. Bourton-on-the-Water has been called the prettiest village in the Cotswolds and is often referred to as the “Venice of the Cotswolds.” It contains a model village which is a replica of Bourton-on-the-Water itself. Nearby is Birdland Park with over 500 species of birds, plus there is, of all things, a perfume factory which you can visit.
Stonehenge (88 kilometres/55 miles)
First of all, let me tell you that Stonehenge is located in the middle of nowhere in the county of Wiltshire. Also, unfortunately, you can only view it from a distance. I remember being able to walk right up to these stone monoliths, however, to avoid anyone damaging the stone pillars, it is now fenced off. Basically, it is a ring of very tall stone pillars and a prehistoric monument. It is thought that it was first constructed around 3000 BC. It is also thought to be a burial ground containing human remains. The big mystery about Stonehenge is that the actual stone used was not from a local source but was from Wales, around 320 kilometres/200 miles away. How these huge mammoth stones were transported to this spot is at the heart of the mystery.
Bath (200 kilometres/125 miles)
Bath has a rich history as a spa town with some of the world’s best-preserved Roman bathhouses built over 2000 years ago. The city was fortunate to be founded on top of natural hot springs. Today, while on a trip to England, you can partake in a therapeutic bath or just look around the Great Bath which is geothermally heated. The Building of Bath Museum is definitely one of the most interesting museums in Bath detailing the history of this Georgian city.
Bath is also famous for its excellent Georgian architecture. The highlight of this architecture is the well-known Royal Crescent, a semicircular terrace of townhouses which overlook the Royal Victoria Park. Built between 1767 and 1775, the houses appear to be exactly the same from the outside, but inside, no two houses are alike. Number One Royal Crescent is open to the public. Another example of Georgian architecture is The Circus, consisting of 3 terraces of 33 mansions. Bath Abbey is an enormous structure built in the 16th century and was one of the last medieval churches to be built.
Windsor and the Thames Valley (55 kilometres/35 miles)
The Thames Valley region incorporates Windsor Castle, which is one of the four homes of the Royal Family. The castle, which is the oldest and largest occupied in the world, was originally built for William the Conqueror in the 11th century. You can visit the State Apartments with their art treasures, including original paintings by Rubens and Rembrandt. You should not miss the Queen Mary’s Dolls House. This is a separate building and a miniature royal palace with miniature replicas of thrones, the crown jewels, and much more. It contains around 1000 works of art. St. George’s Chapel is a royal mausoleum containing the tombs of Henry VIII, Charles I, and George VI among others. After your visit to the castle, try a stroll through Windsor Castle’s attractive grounds and then, just beyond, into the Windsor Great Park. If energetic, you can walk the one kilometre/half mile to the prestigious Eton College where many British politicians were educated. 5 kilometres/3 miles away from Windsor is Runnymede, the site of the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 AD.
Further along the Thames, heading west is the town of Henley renowned for its annual rowing regatta which takes place over 5 continuous days. If your visit on a trip to England coincides with the Regatta, you can have an enjoyable day watching the competitions. If it doesn’t, you can still enjoy this very attractive idyllic Thames-side market town, stroll along the meadows adjacent to the river, and browse the many small shops in the town centre. Another favourite Thames-side market town of mine is Marlow, a charming place again to stroll along the Thames River’s banks. It is also a starting point for sailing on the River Thames on a 40 minute round trip cruise to Henley or Windsor.